I went to an hour-long meditation practice at a new place I found and a giant ass bulldozer was ripping up the asphalt right outside the practice room. The sound was so distracting it was awesome, such a great parallel to what happens right here in the midst of everyday life. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a day without a bull dozer plowing thru my best made plans, my clinging beliefs of right and wrong, good and bad.
Life just happens, right?
I sat for the first 10 minutes really working with the distraction… but my mind kept racing. I finally surrendered and let it roll, just observing and seeing what it would manufacture. It turned to contemplation on changing my ways.. something I seem to be immersed in these days. I seem to have finally realized that if I want to get somewhere other than where I’ve been, then I need to try a new way, a different path to the finish line.
The longer I sat, an old Buddhist story kept coming back to my mind and I began to re-write it for myself and the situations I find myself lost in sometimes.. it went something like this:
Everyday on the thousand-acre farm the cows take the same path to get to the water. As the old cattle rancher opens the gate the cows canter out into the pasture and follow the same worn mile long path way out to the right and around in a huge arc all the way to the water.
The journey takes 4 hours or more each way even though the water is less than 200 feet away. The direct route is covered by boulders and rocks that the cows can’t navigate.
Needing several hours to drink and bathe themselves, the rancher’s day often starts before sunrise and extends beyond sunset.
For many years each summer the rancher would invest significant time and resources removing the rocks.. he’d blow them up with dynamite, he’d bury them, he even built bridges over some of them. He knew a better way to the water existed and by changing the route, he’d extend his work time and productivity by 8 hours a day and the impact this would have been extraordinary.
After many years of effort he’d cleared the way and a new, direct path to the water was created.
The first few days he let the cows out and hoped they would find their way but they just followed the same old 8-hour path. The next few days he put a barricade up in hopes of them turning and following the new path however they just took twice as long trying desperately to get around and stay on their chosen path.
He realized he had to do something so he lassoed the first cow out the gate and walked her down the new path right to the water. Believing all the rest would follow, he was heartsick as he turned around and realized only the cow he had directly shown the new way came along. All the rest stuck to the old path.
Dismayed, he re-committed to try again and the next morning picked a new cow believing it must not have been the “leader” and this time just the cow he had shown the day before and the new cow he was leading came along the new way. All the others stuck to the old path.
Only after showing each and every cow, one by one, the new way over and over again did he finally get the cows to embrace the new direct route and give him his 8 hours a day back to him.
Only after years of taking one cow at a time, over and over again did they finally embrace the new path and take it without struggle.
I’ve been the cow a thousand times… clinging to my old ways of thinking and acting and behaving just because it’s what’s familiar and always was.
I’ve been the rancher a thousand times… believing if people are just given a new way or asked to change, they will embrace it.
Perhaps I’m obstinate or mental or something but I require coaxing, intimidation, guard rails, direct yet kind speech and serious accountability to change my ways. I consciously seek people to fill these roles in my life and I’m grateful to them, these noble friends, because without them I’d still be on that same old path hoping for a different scene but seeing the same old stuff.
Grateful for that damn bulldozer… and all the cows who remind me how to lead.